Saturday, May 23, 2009

Birding technique... The early bird gets the worm; the early birdwatcher gets the bird!

Wood DuckAmerican Robin searching for worms, Rood Bridge Park, Hillsboro, Oregon on 13 March 2009 by Greg Gillson.


Yesterday (22 May 2009), David Bailey made an interesting observation on the Oregon Birders On-Line (OBOL) mailing list. The post concerned migrant seabirds, but applies to birds on land, as well--perhaps even your own backyard.

Bailey said:

"I have been conducting morning surveys in the upland forest of the Coast Range since 1 May and visiting Boiler Bay most days around 0800. Comparing my numbers and species richness to Phil Pickering's and Wayne Hoffman's counts during the same period has shown ample evidence that counting within two hours of sunrise rather than in the third hour produces much higher numbers of individuals and species. Today was no exception, though the northward flights of birds were still occurring while nearly completely tapering off by 0900."

Indeed, birders arriving in later morning and seeing only a few birds floating offshore from this Oregon coast State Wayside, wonder about the reports they read online. I've even been asked if certain regular Boiler Bay bird reporters were making up those large shearwater, murrelet, and auklet numbers. No, I assure them, the birds are definitely there near shore, very early in the morning.

Since sunrise in May is about 5:30 AM, that means that birders arriving after 8:00 AM will likely NOT see any of the target species of seabirds. In fact, they are not likely to see very many birds at all. Migration for the day is over and birds sit on the water farther offshore, unseen.

Tim Rodenkirk added:
It is certainly the same for passerine species and birds like Black Swift which are regular coastal migrants this time of year. I have posted bird lists at the learning center at New River Area of Critical Environmental Concern (SW Coos Co- BLM land) after point counts only to hear, "I didn't see any of those species"-- well of course, they were looking later AM and even worse, in the PM when the winds typically howl on the Oregon Coast (if you don't want to see birds, always arrive a few hours after sunrise) However, if you are out at sunrise, and the first couple hours after sunrise, you'll hear and see all sorts of birds, but by even 8 or 9AM on the coast, the show is over and the winds begin howling.

It's true. Birds are most active at dawn. Many neotropical migrants fly all night and land at dawn, sing, eat, and then sleep or rest in the shade as the sun crawls higher in the sky. Early birders see more birds. In fact, it is often light enough to see birds a half an hour before official sunrise. And, certainly, the dawn chorus starts well before sunrise and tapers off an hour or so after sunrise. As Rodenkirk reproached: "If you don't want to see birds, always arrive a few hours after sunrise."

To see the most birds, get up while it's dark and be where you want to be birding when the sun rises.

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